Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill praised his side’s magnificent Uefa Cup performance against Ajax after Gareth Barry scored to secure three points in the group stage.
Villa’s 2-1 victory was in the end just what the boss had ordered as he urged his side to get their group stage matches up and running with a victory.
O’Neill said: “I thought we were excellent and I we deserved to win. It was a very tight match but we won 2-1 and we are delighted with that.
“There was a little spell after Ajax equalised when they had possession but we expected that and I thought we fought back magnificently.”
But the Northern Irishman was not impressed that his side had been denied what he felt was a stonewall penalty after Gabriel Agbonlahor was felled in the Ajax box. Austrian referee Thomas Einwaller did not see it however and waved play on.
O’Neill said: “We should have had a penalty. It was clear cut the but referee missed it and so did the linesman. That would have given us a bit of confidence but we defended stoutly.”
The Villa boss added: “Ajax are a fine side. They’ve got some very good players and are a fine passing team but in the midst of all this I cannot forget we too have some excellent players in terms of ability and the heart and desire which we showed tonight.”
O’Neill had promised fans that big European nights were back at Villa Park and said they had not disappointed him in showing him a glimpse of how things used to be. He said: “There was a great atmosphere out there. I was told the atmosphere would be excellent and it was. The Holte End were right behind us and it was terrific we definitely responded to the crowd.”
O’Neill was full of admiration for former skipper Barry and singled striker Agbonlahor out for praise although there were concerns when the young England Under-21 striker was carried from the field after a tough challenge. O’Neill said: “Barry was exceptional and gave a big big performance while Agbonlahor produced a master class at centre forward and his hold up play was immense. We went too deep at times but we rectified the situation in the second half and really took the game to them.”
Commenting on his striker’s injury O’Neill said: “He has cuts across both knees but we’re hoping that’s all it is and he hasn’t done any real damage. We need to get him assessed.”